Villain to hero: Ben Stokes' final salvation at Lord's

Sir Ben Stokes he might soon be. Deservedly too, since he has gone where even the legendary Botham could not.

Published: 17th July 2019 04:48 PM  |   Last Updated: 17th July 2019 11:23 PM   |  A+A-

Ben Stokes

Stokes produced a clinical all-round display | AP

By Online Desk

April 3 2016. The Eden Gardens was buzzing. The enthusiasm the crowd showed concealed the fact that the ICC World T20 final was being played without the hosts India. 

England was restricted to a modest (by T20 standards) yet fighting 155/9 on that slow turner by the West Indies. But while bowling, they hit back with wickets at crucial junctures and it all came down to 19 runs from the final over.

Who was the bowler tasked to bowl that last over? It was Ben Stokes - up against a Carlos Brathwaite playing just the eighth T20I of his fledgling career. The slow pitch made getting 19 runs seem like Mission Impossible.

But it was Brathwaite's day. The next four balls from Stokes went sailing over square leg, long on, long off and deep midwicket. Four balls, four maximums. The finish extraordinaire on the biggest cricket stadium in the world.

The villain that night was Ben Stokes. The man who scored a double century at the iconic Newlands stadium, an innings that would have made Ian Botham proud, was understandably crestfallen. 

Two years of decent cricket followed and he was back on the road to redemption - step by careful step. But then came the home series against the same West Indies whom England dominated this time. But what about Stokes? He involved himself in a bar brawl in Bristol after an ODI match. He was suspended for an indefinite period by the England and Wales Cricket Board. 

The series preceded the Ashes showdown down under in 2017-18 and consequently, he was out of that all-important series. In August 2018, Stokes was relieved from affray charges after the jury accepted that he had acted in self-defence and he was soon back on the field. 

Slowly, England found a winning formula of smashing the ball around to win match after match and Stokes began quietly fitting in - again. The English team was aggressive, but when the heat was on and they needed someone to graft the runs for them, a different Stokes - different from the one who used to walk down the track against pacers - battened down the hatches and did the hard yards too. This
underlined Stokes' growing sense of maturity.

He was then ready as the much-awaited World Cup came with England ranking as the firm favourites to lift the trophy given their performances in the last few years, especially at home. 

The road to the final was topsy-turvy but even in the two back-to-back games that England lost in their campaign, there was one man standing tall, battling the slowness and lowness of the pitches, and living up to the pressure of expectations. Ben Stokes.

It was fitting for Stokes that England didn’t reach the final rolling over other teams. Rather, they reached the final squeezing wins after finding the runs that mattered in crunch situations.

On to the final. In a Test against New Zealand last year, a tentative Stokes had been bowled through the gate when he couldn’t read the line and direction of the swinging ball from Boult. But Lord’s on July 14, 2019 was payback time. 

In the final over, when England required more than 15, he swept, yes swept, a Boult delivery over the mid-wicket fence to bring the equation under control. Next ball, a throw from Guptill from the boundary deflected off Stokes' bat for four overthrows. 

The England all-rounder said in the post-match media interview that he will apologise for the unintended deflection for the rest of his life. But this apology will always remain so much different from the apology he delivered after the Bristol brawl. 

Maybe he had trusted his stars to finally come good for him. Maybe he had trusted his team or maybe he had trusted his instincts. Whatsoever be the explanation, Stokes defied himself and gave his team and nation another shot at the World Cup. His immense concentration took England to the super over and so to the World Cup when all seemed doomed.

Sir Ben Stokes he might soon be. Deservedly too, since he has gone where even the legendary Botham could not.


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